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What Are Senate Committees?

Learning About Congress

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Clouds move as the sun sets against the west front of the United States Capitol building January 23, 2007
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In order to manage the thousands of bills introduced into Congress each legislative session, the Congress relies upon a complex committee structure.

There are three types of Senate committees: standing committees, special or select committees, and joint committees. The Senate currently operates 24 fact-finding and policy-recommending committees.

For purposes of member assignment, Senate committees are divided into three categories: Class A, Class B and Class C. Senators are limited to service on two Class A committees and one Class B committee. Assignment to Class C committees is made without reference to a member's service on any other committee.

Standing Committees (16)
Standing committees generally have legislative jurisdiction. Subcommittees handle specific areas of the committee’s work.

Standing committees are permanent bodies with specific responsibilities spelled out in the Senate's official rules.

Twelve of the 16 current standing committees are Class A committees: Agriculture; Appropriations; Armed Services; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; Finance; Foreign Relations; Governmental Affairs; Judiciary; and Labor and Human Resources.

The four Class B standing committees are somewhat less prestigious: Budget; Rules and Administration; Small Business; and Veterans' Affairs. There are no Class C standing committees.


Select and Special Committees (4)
Select and special committees, which are either Class B or the Class C, are created for clearly specified purposes. There is no substantive difference between a select and a special committee.

Special investigating committees, such as the 1973 Select Committee to Investigate Presidential Campaign Activities (the Watergate Committee), expire after they submit their final report to the Senate.

There are currently two Senate Class B committees, the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Special Committee on Aging, as well as two Class C committees, the Committee on Indian Affairs and the Select Committee on Ethics.


Joint Committees (4)
For their first century, the Senate and House of Representatives supplemented their individual rules with a system of joint rules, but these proved cumbersome and were abandoned in 1889.

Today, the Senate participates in the Joint Economic Committee -- a Class B committee -- and the Class C Joint Committee on Library of Congress, Joint Committee on Printing, and Joint Committee on Taxation. As their names suggest, they either perform housekeeping functions or conduct studies.


Source: U.S. Senate
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